Ireland 1997. Mary McAleese replaced Mary Robinson as President, the IRA declared a ceasefire, Lady Diana died tragically, Saving Private Ryan was being filmed and John Banville had just released his novel The Untouchable. And though it doesn’t feature on Wikipedia’s information page, my very first book Livewire was also published.
Written when I was fifteen, late at night, in the pages of a foolscap notebook, the publication of Livewire was a culmination of a dream I’d held since I was eight years old. The hero of the novel was a boy called Joey. He was everything I wanted in a fella at the time – handsome, funny, popular and talented. He also possessed the tortured soul of an artist. And though the book had been written in the mid-eighties and was not printed until a decade later, it was still relevant. Aside from our two female presidents, nothing much had changed in the country during those ten years.
So how had I done it? How had I taken my story and transformed it into a book way back before the invention of home computers, email and editing packages?
I’d invested my meagre savings in a word processor – at the time it was a cutting-edge piece of kit, a cross between an electric typewriter and a laptop – and typed up every page of the handwritten manuscript. I’d printed it out, bound it and then raided my decimated bank account and posted a number of bound scripts to a number of publishers. Back then, unsolicited post was encouraged!
I got some positive responses, and one publisher wrote to say that if I reworked the manuscript, they would be happy to have another look at it. Galvanised, and with the help of my sister, handily an editor, I cut down the word count, reprinted it, bound it, posted it. After another while, I got a phone call on my landline – remember those? – to ask if I would like to meet with this publisher. And following that meeting, I agreed to edit some more and type some more, and print some more and bind some more and post some more. (You get the idea)
Finally, the book was published. And I had a big party in my local pub with everyone I knew there. The book was put into the book shops, it went into the bestsellers. It was categorised as ‘Teenage fiction’. No YA back then.
Twenty-five years on, if published now, Livewire, would baffle today’s youth. There were no mobile phones it in, no social media, the word ‘Internet’ hadn’t been invented. Friends ‘called for’ each other by knocking on the doors of each other’s houses.
Livewire, I realise now, was published on the cusp of all the change to come. The night of the launch, my husband bought me a present. A small, grey, mobile phone. It could send and receive texts and calls. Little did I know that this device would soon transform not only the social landscape but the publishing world I was now entering.
A few years, and a couple of books later, home computers became a ‘thing’. They were huge cumbersome machines that used floppy discs. There was even an ‘Encarta’ encyclopaedia included with it – a sort of Google on CD. A little later, email was invented and to my joy, it negated the need to print up and post manuscripts. That to me was the big game changer.
It was a few more books before SOCIAL MEDIA made its appearance. My children were the first to hop on the band wagon. I heard about ‘MySpace’. I marvelled at their ability to navigate it. My daughter encouraged me to sign up. I felt ridiculous – what did I have to say?
“You can make new friends and tell them all about your books,” she said.
How rude. “You don’t go making friends with people only to shove your book down their throats,” I berated her.
Then, as the years marched on, came Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TicTok.
Newer writers began to do what my daughter suggested I do years back, promote themselves and their books using these platforms. As I looked at their array of snappy tweets and quirky video’s I thought that maybe it could be a useful tool. But alas, I soon discovered that some authors have a gift for doing this kind of thing. I on the other hand, am hopeless at shoehorning my book into tweets about everyday stuff. Think Cinderella’s ugly sister trying to force her foot into the shoe. “It’s Wordsworth’s anniversary today, remember his poem ‘Daffodils’?? Well, daffodils feature a LOT in my new book.” And when I tried making a video about opening my box of books, our dog had got there before me and managed to rip up half of them.
As the saying goes, some people are born into social media, other have social media thrust upon them.
Today, the march of the internet continues with the rise of Amazon, eBooks, book bloggers, blog ‘tours’ and online reviews by ordinary readers.
And though I sometimes hanker after the days when authors didn’t have to be quite so visible, I do believe that overall, the changes have been positive. Books are now more accessible, affordable and because of Goolge, easier to research. Reviews, because they come from everywhere, are less biased and more democratic.
It is important to adapt in life and in writing.
Now if I can just keep the dog at bay long enough to whip up quick video of me opening the box on my new ultra=modern, up-to-date crime book, The Branded – my twenty-second book in my twenty five year career – I’ll be set up!
(c) Martina Murphy
About The Branded:
During an unprecedented heatwave, the body of a young girl is found in a submerged suitcase in Loch Acorrymore on Achill Island. DS Lucy Golden is tasked with identifying her and returning her to her family. With the help of her team, they discover that the girl was a runaway, who had spent some time in a homeless shelter. She has been murdered and an investigation is launched.
Despite some promising leads, Lucy’s enquiries seem to be going nowhere until another the body with connections to the homeless shelter is discovered in what initially appears to be a suicide. Lucy knows that there is no such thing as coincidence, but the race is on to find the link between the two victims before the trail goes cold.
As Lucy is drawn deeper into the case, she realises that these murders may be a whole lot more sinister than first thought. Can Lucy keep a clear emotional head and get to the truth before more girls end up dead?
‘The Branded pulls you straight into the story, snares you, and won’t let you escape until you turn the last page’ Patricia Gibney
Order your copy online here.